Germany: Giant Rallies, Big Questions

Photograph Source: Germany: Giant Rallies, Big Questions – CC BY-2.0

Germany has seen two major occurrences in recent weeks. Featured daily in the media have been the giant crowds demonstrating against the fascistic AfD, Alternative for Germany. Estimates were as high as 100,000 in Hamburg, 200,000 in Düsseldorf,  up to 250,000 in Munich and already lasting over three weeks, with a second rally in Berlin attracting 300,000 according to some estimates. At least two million people are said to have taken part thus far, with public approval at a very high level. Especially noteworthy were the big anti-AfD turnouts in Dresden, Erfurt, Leipzig, Potsdam, Chemnitz, cities in East German states where the AfD is in first place, topping the polls at over 30%  – with elections due in three of them in September. About a thousand brave souls even demonstrated in Pirna, the town where an AfD man recently got a majority vote and was elected mayor.

What detonated this eruption with its flags, banners and innumerable hand-made anti-AfD signs – angry, worried, also humorous – was a curious news item on January 10th about a secretive meeting of twenty-odd far-far-right-wingers in an isolated lake-front villa near Potsdam. Among them were several middle-level AfD leaders, three fringe right-wing members of the already right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), (who have since been dropped),  a few wealthy but little-known businessmen and a leader of the quasi-fascist Austrian “Identitarian” movement. Their theme was a program – “after achieving power” – of “remigration”, the compulsory expulsion of all people with “non-German roots,” even those with German citizenship but not considered properly “assimilated into German language and culture.” This might mean up to 15 million immigrants plus five million with two immigrant parents. Though fully absurd and impossible, this plan reflected the use of hatred by far-rightists in efforts to gain power, a strategy now blossoming all over Europe (and menacing in the USA). It was encouraging to see so many taking to the streets and squares to reject such threats, with their worrisome echoes of past history. Their numbers may help dispel false notions that most or all Germans are “lost to the Nazis.”

But must I then again indulge my inner flaw – always voicing undesirable doubts – even here, despite all the general pleasure and enthusiasm? I fear it is too late in life for me to overcome the habit. For while I have no doubts at all about the motivation and sincerity of all those giant crowds, a few questions do bother me.

That secretive meeting in Villa-Adlon was somehow spied upon by a group called Correctiv. Shouldn’t the media have mentioned that this hardly-known Correktiv, founded seven years ago to “expose fake news,” was financially sponsored by the Open Society Foundations of the very well-known American financier George Soros? Is there any explanation as to why the meeting on November 22 was not reported publicly until January 10th? I also wonder just a bit at how so many giant well-organized rallies could take place all over the country within two or three days of the news release. Of course, opposing AfD met with giant public support, but such quick, almost joyful media effort is rare for causes not desired by powerful forces on high. And these rallies have been and are still being blessed with speeches by a host of government leaders of all levels and directions. 

One possible (if cynical) explanation has occurred to me – with two key words, Gaza and Netanyahu! Ever since its founding after World War II the German Federal Republic, to gain acceptance into the family of “western democracies,”  while denouncing Hitler and his most famous henchmen, almost completely restricted condemnation to the horrifying annihilation of the Jewish people while distorting or ignoring the earlier, intense fascist attacks against the Left, especially the Communist left, which so often ended with a noose or a guillotine. Largely forgotten were also Nazi crimes against almost every country in Europe, beginning in Spain in 1936-1939 and climaxing in the killing of an estimated 27 million people of the USSR. In fact, a large number of the perpetrators went unpunished or regained influence and prosperity. Meanwhile the policy-makers built up connections with any and every Israeli  government, including large financial support, often in the form of armaments (like submarines). But since such support served as evidence that Germany had “overcome its past,” total, blind approval must never ever be questioned and was given a special new stature as “basic state principle”(Staats-raison). As Jewish life gradually returned to Germany this taboo was extended to an official, repeated rejection of “anti-Semitism.”  In general this should and would be greatly welcomed – except that it was directed more and more against anyone, including Jews (denounced as “self-haters”) who disapproved of Israeli policy or evidenced any sympathy and solidarity for those – the Palestinians – who had for untold centuries cared for their gardens and olive trees and established a rich culture and whose repression was largely banished from the media of the ”western world.” 

That is until recently. When “Bibi” Netanyahu with his Knesset majority and an undeniably fascist-led cabinet defied the UN and heightened pressure to extend total Israeli sovereignty “from the river to the sea” it became increasingly difficult – worldwide – to support him. Then huge numbers of Israelis demonstrated against him, week for week, because of his attempts to further centralize power.  Yet if he were to lose his job at the top he was threatened with a prison sentence on charges of corruption and bribery. He found himself being pushed into an ever tighter corner. 

Then came the violent Hamas-led attack on October 7th. Bibi was saved! After the terrible reports of atrocities he could now call for collective vengeance and bring most Jewish Israelis behind him (at least for a while). True, there had been warnings well in advance, wild unproven tales of beheaded babies recalled too closely the incubator babies thrown on the floor by Iraq soldiers in 1990, all invented; the fatal dance gala had been planned to end a day before the attack; many torn and burnt bodies, Jewish and Arab, were victims of Israeli tank and helicopter fire. 

However, regardless of all doubts, the attack cost over 1100 Jewish and Arab lives, whose death should not be minified. But neither should long decades of brutal oppression. Nor can October 7th justify a vengeance which has already cost the lives of at least 27,000 known dead in Gaza, with thousands more buried under rubble – and over 70% of the victims women and children. Far more than half of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed, over 69% of the school buildings, 142 mosques and three churches were damaged, 121 ambulances hit with at least 337 health workers killed. Doctors were jailed and viciously tortured. The bombing was carried out with modern US-made precision, while refugees fleeing to allegedly safe areas were again hit. Among those killed were 80 or more journalists trying to report or film this catastrophe, most of them despite – or because of – their distinctive press vests.

One dramatic result in October was a wave of protest demonstrations – down Fifth Avenue, into Grand Central Station, on New York bridges, in the USA Capitol, around the nation. And around the world! In London an estimated 100,000 marched to the Parliament. Also in Germany, despite attempts by the police to harass and limit them. A large number were Arabs, Turks or other Muslims, but also a good proportion had European roots, along with members of organizations like “Jews For A Just Peace.” I believe that these spontaneous marches had broader implications, not only for Palestinian rights, indeed survival, but for new directions in foreign policy, and in general. Any emerging unity of this kind had a dramatic potential; it undoubtedly frightened the powerful to the marrow. It must be halted. Quick! 

I think a very official media stress on combatting anti-Semitism was basically inspired, at least by some, to accomplish just this. But it backfired; for too many this “awareness” seemed to be really aimed primarily at supporting Bibi and his invasion of Gaza.  

Was it really that sudden news report about a meeting of twenty-odd third-rank plotters which started up all the giant anti-AfD rallies? Or could it have been part of a strategy from “above” to distract people from supporting the Gazans and from resisting a frightening armaments build-up, combined with troop movements eastward to Russian borders while Germans were being whipped up into war enthusiasm by  people like Defense Minister Pistorius and Foreign Minister Baerbock? How much hypocrisy was involved? Some critics noted that new government steps against immigrants and in favor of exclusive barriers around Europe (not unlike those in the American Southwest), with strict sifting and deportation of those who failed requirements, were not all that different in spirit from AfD demands. And some recalled the many pro-fascist ties uncovered in recent years in police departments, in the army and in government ranks. In fact, from 2012 until 2018 the Constitution Protection Office (like the FBI) was headed by a man who turned out to be a close friend of the AfD. And there had been so many friendly TV interviews with AfD leaders. Were the angry denunciations of the AfD by political big shots as sincere as the crowds they addressed? Or was my skepticism justified about the boundless enthusiasm of a media which was so skimpy and sarcastic about peace rallies? Or am I an overly-suspicious cynic – a Grinch?


The other important happening, on January 27th, did not receive such lengthy media detail or enthusiasm- but could prove equally important, positively or negatively. It was the official founding by about 450 delegates, in what was once East Germany’s handsome Cosmos movie theater, of a new party, a break-away from the Linke, the Left. Named “Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht” (Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht),  it will count these delegates its only members until a regular congress is held after the crucial elections to the European Parliament in June. Support will be welcomed but applications restricted till then, it was explained, so as to prevent undesirable connivers or crazies from disrupting the party’s early development in all sixteen German states. Co-chairing it in these early months, together with Sahra herself, will be the former co-chair of the Linke caucus in the Bundestag, Amira Mohamed Ali (despite her noteworthy name and Egyptian father a visibly German-rooted Hamburger). Here is their (slightly shortened) rationale for the split:

 Übersetzung in Englisch. 

“Time and time again, we have argued that false priorities and a lack of focus on social justice and peace dilute the party’s profile. Again and again we have tried to stop its decline… We didn’t succeed…The history of the Linke since the 2019 European elections is the story of political failure. The party leaders and the functionaries supporting them at the state level were determined not to discuss this failure critically under any circumstances. They did not take responsibility for it, nor did they draw any substantive conclusions from it. Rather, those who were critical of the course of the party leadership were blamed as the culprits for the results and were increasingly marginalized. Against this background we no longer see any place for our positions in the party. As an example, it is worth remembering our “Uprising for Peace” in February 2023, the largest peace rally in the last 20 years….The entire political establishment of the country defamed the rally. But instead of supporting us against these attacks the party leadership of the Linke stood shoulder to shoulder with those other parties; they accused the initiators of the rally of being ‘open to right-wingers’ and thus provided cues for the accusations against us. 

“German foreign policy offers ammunition for wars instead of seeking peace solutions. Conflicts are escalating internationally, the looming bloc formation is a threat to world peace and will bring massive economic upheavals with it …It is the government’s inability to deal with the crises of our time and the narrowing of the accepted corridor of opinion which have swept the AfD to the top. Many people simply don’t know any other way to articulate their protest. In this situation, the Linke no longer appears as a clearly recognizable opposition, but rather as a mild ‘Yes, but…’ party. … At the moment, there is every indication that it will no longer be seated in the next Bundestag, while the AfD is polling at over 20 percent. We have a responsibility to resume the battle in earnest for the future of our country. To this end, we want to build a new political force, a democratic voice for social justice, peace, reason and freedom.

“We are leaving our old party without rancor or resentment. For us, the conflict has ended. To all of you we say: We want to separate like adults. A War of the Roses would harm us all. The Linke is not our political opponent. To all those of you with whom we have worked together in a spirit of trust for many years, we also say: We are ready for talks and would be happy to welcome you into our party at an appropriate time.” 

The most immediate result of the break was the loss of any left-wing presence on the level of a fraction (like a caucus) in the Bundestag. Twenty-nine members are needed to be a fraction; since the Linke now has only 28 members and the newly-formed Wagenknecht party only ten they have been demoted to the status of “groups.” Instead of a regular bloc in the Bundestag, with two front row chairs, both new groups have been demoted to seats way in the far upper back (next to each other), without even desk trays but only their knees to support notes or papers. Their finances and privileges are cut, including their time to speak at the front lectern, their positions in committees and their ability to ask questions of the various ministers. All is shortened or weakened at least until the next elections, planned for 2026, when they must both try to reach the 5% level and achieve status as full fractions.

Will that be possible – and how does the new party stand on the most complicated questions of the day? Its finance and foreign policy expert Fabio de Masi, 43, (whose grandfather was a partisan in Italy), was chosen as top candidate for the European Parliament. In an interview he offered some answers: 

First of all he rejected charges that it was a “Putin lover” party. “I believe that talking with one another is part of the business of politics…Saudi Arabia waged a bloody war against Yemen, where hundreds of thousands were killed. But there are talks with its leader. And all the wars fought by the West in violation of international law ended with negotiations.… Scholz need not agree with everything Putin says, but he must talk with him. Mr. Zelensky’s negotiator has confirmed that talks in Istanbul in March 2022 came very close to reaching a political solution with the Russians, whose basic worry was about Ukrainian membership in NATO. I am convinced that it would have been possible to avoid this war. The war violates international law and is a crime – but what really matters is that it must be ended as quickly as possible.” 

Asked how the new party can prevent disappointed AfD members from joining up and moving it to the right, De Masi stated that this is exactly why it was restricting itself at the start to only 450 members. “For example, we clearly do not want anybody who is a racist. But as for those voters who once voted SPD or Linke and then voted AfD, I would prefer that they gather instead behind a democratic force like our party in order to solve their problems.” 

A major criticism of Sahra’s position involves immigration. On this, de Masi said: “We must reduce the attractions which cause so many people to come here so as to achieve a better economic future. If these people remain here for a long time without any genuine perspective then that increases social pressures in housing and schools. This has nothing to do with their not being ‘biological Germans’. Those affected are our people, who once came here from Turkey and who built up our country. It is they who feel the pressures of immigration while those in prosperous neighborhoods feel them hardly at all. The basic right of asylum is valid for everyone who is politically persecuted. But that does not mean that it must be granted by Germany alone. We should offer more assistance to people in their countries of origin while reducing financial subsidies for those who have no claim on protection here. But for those who have a legal basis for coming to Germany we must offer the best chances for successful integration. We must do much more for language courses, kindergartens, trade courses.” 

Asked about the name of the party, and how to prevent it from being a pure Wagenknecht show, he said that with no million-euro donations for PR campaigns from big corporations it was necessary to use a name which was widely known. That applied for Sahra. This would be changed at the latest after the Bundestag elections in 2026. 

There have been questions among leftists about a seeming lack of militancy in the new party’s statements, about Sahra’s stated goal of regaining “German prosperity” as in earlier post-war years, her stress on small enterprise and middle-class welfare with less mention of the role of NATO and the forces behind it. Was this a down-scaling aimed at winning middle-of-the-road-voters? If so, was it a smart policy? 

Indeed, one militant section of the Linke, the group (or fraction) called Communist Platform, which always led in opposing a liberal drift of the party, especially a weakening of its opposition to NATO and to sending German weapons – or soldiers – into foreign conflicts, has called it a mistake to break away with Sahra, saying the party should be maintained – but must be altered. In an open letter to the Linke co-chairpersons it warned about some in the remaining party who think that now, with those super-leftist Wagenknecht trouble-makers finally pushed out, they can make life in the party miserable enough for any remaining Marxist-oriented comrades so they will leave as well. Such people may not say such ideas openly, it was added, but they say them! That is certain! But they have no idea about the views of grass root party members. If they now succeed in impelling comrades from the Communist Platform or “Cuba Si”  to also quit the Linke, “the consequences are all too predictable. We advise you to call such people to order and to common sense. A failure to do so would mean the end of the party.” 

What will now occur? Can the Linke survive? Or will the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance replace it as the only genuine opposition party of any consequence in Germany? It is already beating it in most of the polls; nationally it has reached the crucial 5% level and on some days even touching 7%, while the Linke is sinking, sometimes to a low of 2%. The Wagenknecht party has taken a percentage lead ahead of the Linke in all three East German states which vote in September. The first big test will be in June with the vote for the European Parliament. Will these two parties become rivals, each weakening the other? Will one prevail? And if her party is perceived as a danger will the media cease inviting, even flattering Sahra but rather smear her? Some have already begun! Is it possible that the two left parties will not fight but complement each other? Or will both collapse? The next months may be dramatic, indeed crucial, for German leftist growth and pressure has often been extremely important, not only in its home country but as a central force in all of Europe. What is now dreadfully needed is such a leftist force– if possible combining with the sincere crowds now devoted to repulsing the AfD and other fascists – to build up a barrier and slow down or halt the menacingly rapacious drive of the billionaires, generals and their politicians toward bigger and more murderous armed forces and a closer and more alarming confrontation with its victims and its foes?

Victor Grossman writes the Berlin Bulletin, which you can subscribe to for free by sending an email to: